Who are those strange people who sit in parked cars at two o’clock in the afternoon staring into space? Why do they gawk at me when I walk down the street rambling to myself, trying to prepare the necessary phrases to use in basic human interaction?
Case in point. On Tuesday, I walked up the leafy suburb to cash a cheque. As I walked, muttering ‘can I cash this please’ or ‘could I cash this please’ or ‘could this be cashed, please’ I saw at least THREE passengers staring out at me. Who are they waiting for? Are they sitting there hoping someone might climb into the driver’s seat and drive them? Why do they always see me when I’m trying to be privately weird?
Let me tell you, being weird in this climate of prudence and common sense is not easy. Sometimes I want to sing along to pop songs packed into buses tight with silence. Sometimes I want to debate with myself the tone of voice someone used when speaking to me, and the implications of this tone on our relations. The only thing stopping me is the thin line between sanity and craziness, a line I am happy to straddle without medication.
Recently my housemates and I were teasing each other about our geeky inadequacies when it comes to social skills. Some of us took the Autism Spectrum Test on Facebook, because we like being given numbers to help us understand ourselves. I came out at 31, one point below the level at which doctors start looking at you funny, but a high enough number to make one of my housemates eyes swell up with surprise. Admittedly, this housemate has an unusually elastic face, so I probably overestimated the extent to which he was surprised.
When I was younger, I would spend every lunchtime sitting in the library quietly reading things in or about foreign languages, but then I realised at some point that the reason I had so few people to talk to was because I didn't go up to people and talk to them. Now I spend every lunchtime talking to someone so that I can be sure that I develop relationships with people. Relationships are important to me, not just because I need the company but because I find people fascinating - I love it when you're close to someone and you know some of the unique patterns in their head, and I love it when I say the right thing at the right time and it makes someone happy.
I'm really not good at chit chat. I don't like it at all. If there's something on my mind, then that tends to be the answer I give when asked, 'How's it going?' Here's a typical conversation:
Norm: Hi Zoya, how's it going?
Zoya: Great, I'm having a really nice morning. I just saw some children singing, holding hands in a circle, with two of them in the middle spinning around, and I thought what an idyllic image, and I loved the order and regularity of the circle with the rotation in the centre.
Norm: Oh. That's nice...
Zoya: (remembers that pleasantries should be reciprocated) How are you?
Norm: Fine, thanks. A bit tired.
I'm not even going to start on my outright refusal to recognise taboos. I spend a lot of my time getting into conversations about sex and death. Sometimes I even get people to talk about the class system.
I'm not really interested in looking at this stuff as though it were an indication of some sort of minor learning difficulty. I think it's nice to be weird. You can say things to people that they've never heard before, and that can bring up all sorts of positive feelings in them. This is why I don't walk down the street practicing necessary phrases. I quite like the way I bumble through them - many transactions for me begin with, 'I need to do Y. In order to achieve this I need to do X. I have this piece of paper which I am told can help you to help me to do X. Is this right? What do I need to do now?'
I can sort of sense that there are normal people in this world, but I tend to attract the weird ones so that we can analyse the shapes and patterns of life and talk about the stuff we're really thinking and feeling rather than the stuff we're supposed to think and feel. I think we're all having a great time together here in the weird faction.